Why Every Anniversary Should Be the Paper Anniversary (aka my biggest book haul EVER)
[image description: a pink flower bouquet next to an open book on a dark table.]
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Over the weekend my husband and I celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary. Technically, we’d been celebrating for a week because we went on a weeklong road trip through Ann Arbor (Michigan), Stratford (Ontario), Toronto (Ontario), Kingston (Ontario), Rochester (New York), Erie (Pennsylvania), and Cleveland (Ohio).
Traditionally, the first wedding anniversary gift is paper-themed. So we got an idea: what if we stopped at bookstores in every town we visited and picked out books for one another as anniversary gifts.
Reader, we did. It was a book nerd couple dream!
(I’ll be sharing more about the particular bookshops we visited in a forthcoming Literary Tourism series, so stay tuned for that!)
One of our rules for this picking books out for each other challenge was that we had to actually want the books that were picked out for us. So if I picked out something for him that he wasn’t actually going to read, he had to tell me so I could pick something else. We also liberally dropped hints for one another. Like, “Oh, look! Here’s that book my friend CJ has been talking about for 2 months. She says it’s REALLY GOOD.” cough cough, wink wink
Even so, Mr. Off the Beaten Shelf and I have oddly specific tastes and it’s not often we overlap. For example, he really likes obscure microhistories (such as a book on the history of salt or paper or cod or literally anything by Mark Kurlansky), old mystery novels (such as those by Dashiell Hammett), and super long regional histories (such as Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon).
I like a sampler plate of genres, but I tend to always go for specific themes like feminism, art heists, death, the Erie Canal (told you it was specific!), witches, and essay collections. I also tend to read newer books than he does.
A couple of the areas of our tastes have crossover appeal, such as narrative nonfiction about birds, bonkers nuts true crime, nature writing, and well-researched nonfiction about social issues.
Even knowing all this, it’s still really hard for me to pick out books for other people, including those I know well. People tend to think that because I read a ton I’m good at that sort of thing, but I don’t know that I am. I love it when folks ask me for book recommendations because I can give them a list based on their interests and they can choose a handful from that list that they actually want to read. It feels like I’m just helping them narrow down their options rather than physically handing them a specific book that I picked out especially for them.
I tend to think picking out a book for someone is deeply personal, intimate even, though I realize much book-buying and giving is surely done without such unnecessary anxiety.
But Jon and I had a great time challenging each other to think like the other person and visit sections of the bookstore we might otherwise walk past. Between the two of us, we’ve got paperbacks, hardbacks, each of the three major genres, some new, and some old.
Here’s what we got… (with affiliate links to your local bookstore in case you want to get some of these for yourself!)
Books Jon picked out for me:
Books I picked out for Jon:
Books with crossover appeal:
In case you weren’t counting, we got 37 books. THIRTY-SEVEN. From across 8 bookstores, 4 states, and 2 countries. We were living the dream.
As far as I’m concerned, every anniversary should be the paper anniversary, tradition or not. I’ve got the only piece of jewelry I need, but I’ve always got use for another book. :)